My dog Harper is the teacher’s pet of the canine set. If she were in a classroom, the other kids would call her a goody-goody (and for all I know, that’s what the other dogs called her in puppy kindergarten). She’s very serious, and, with rare exceptions, she never breaks the rules.
Except when it comes to chasing cats.
Harper is our first dog who grew up without a cat in the house. I introduced her to our neighbor’s cat, L.B., when she was just a tiny puppy. She was sweet toward L.B. then, but unfortunately I never got around to repeating that experience. Nonetheless, I was shocked the first time Harper saw a cat outdoors and enthusiastically went after him — at least until she reached the end of her leash. She’s fine with our bird, Larry, but something about another furry beast triggered the hunting instinct that until then had lain dormant in my sweet little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
I’ve tried exposing her to cats in homes, hoping she’ll learn that “cats are our friends.” At a minimum, I’d like her to learn that cats are dangerous to chase. I can’t tell you the number of people who have assured me that their cat would speedily put Harper in her place. Never happens. The only time Harper’s attempt to chase a cat met with firm correction (beyond my own) was when she tried to chase Zeki, who belongs to my friend Arden Moore. Arden’s dog, Chipper, put herself between them, sending a silent but clear message: “You don’t chase MY cat.”
The latest attempt to introduce Harper to cats occurred in November, just before Thanksgiving. My parents have a toy Poodle named Spike and a young cat named Daisy. In their home, Daisy rules, and Spike — tough name notwithstanding — defers to her or else.
When we visited, I brought Harper and the late Twyla with us. Twyla had grown up with cats, so I wasn’t concerned about her interactions with Daisy, and I hoped that Daisy would finally be the cat who would teach Harper that cats are better left alone. (Because one of these days, I’d like to have a cat again.)
But Harper turned the tables on me, unleashing her inner bad girl. When Daisy made an unexpected appearance, I didn’t have my hand on the leash and Harper took off in hot pursuit, loudly voicing her displeasure at the feline intrusion. Daisy turned tail and fled.
Spike, no dummy, watched and learned. The next time Daisy entered the room, Spike stood up and started barking and growling at her — just like his Cavalier mentor. I can picture the tutoring session now: “It’s easy, Spike. Just stand up to her. You got this!”
I should have known better. I’ve written countless articles on socialization and even a little book on the subject. I hang my head in shame that Harper didn’t get better acquainted with cats during her formative months. I just never thought my sweet little Cavalier, good to the bone, would turn into the classic cat-chasing dog. Not even my Greyhound did that.
At first, my stepmother was mad that Harper had taught her gentle Spike to chase Daisy. But it wasn’t long before she was laughing helplessly as she described their antics to me.
And at latest report from my dad, all is back to normal in Edmond, Oklahoma: Now Daisy chases Spike again.